Honey Harvesting in the Dark of Night
The central Ivory Coast is a well-known producer of cocoa, and now the art of beekeeping has spread rapidly in Assounvoue, at the heart of the cocoa production.
French beekeeper Sebastien Gavini, co-director of Le Bon Miel du Cote d’Ivoire (The Fine Honey of Ivory Coast) says that the honey must be harvested at night in West Africa, because the local bees are wild, savage, and aggressive. When they encounter humans, they don’t let them go.
Local beekeepers wait for night to fall, then they put on their bee suits, veils and gloves and go to the hives where they will steal honey from the bees. Harvesting honey at night is less risky for people because the bees don’t chase them in the dark.
These fierce West African bees cannot be compared to the gentler European honeybee, which has been domesticated and knows humans for many centuries and is now under dire threat by insecticides in many places.
Some of the most highly regarded honey in The Ivory Coast comes from Katiola in the north. Francois Silue, who was trained by German and Japanese specialist aid workers, is a member of the Ivorian Cooperative Company (SCI) which brings together about 50 beekeeping farmers. He says this is just the beginning of modern beekeeping in Africa, and it is important to train farmers to shift away from their cultural tradition and stop killing bees so they can benefit from the advantages that bees can give them.
This 1:18-minute video by AFP News Agency (with sub-titles) shows some of the people mentioned in this post discussing the brutal 'traditional' way honey was harvested prior to modern beekeeping:
Many farmers came upon honey-making in an almost ‘accidental’ way, starting to keep bees to supplement their farming income. Then it occurred to them that the bees pollinated their primary crops, and these were healthier. Bees were a double blessing. This news spread like wildfire.
Marcel Iritie is the president of the Agricultural Platform of Ivory Coast. There are only partial figures as to the statistics of the beekeeping sector at a national level. It’s complicated. The estimate is that about 100 members and several cooperatives produce roughly 30 tons of honey annually but that does not include hundreds of small producers.
Most of these people still consider themselves as traditional farmers, and honey production is very much a secondary activity. One thing they all have in common is that life is better thanks to the bees. Pollination makes their crops better and they have extra money from selling honey.
Mathieu Offi, who works with Gavini, is a farmer near Kossou in the middle of Ivory Coast, and one of the most experienced beekeepers in the country. He holds training classes and along with Gavini, they have successfully installed their beehives across a totally organic market garden in Assounvoue.
According to Offi, cocoa production has increased by 1.6, thanks to the bees who do all the work. He says that like humans, they thrive in a healthy environment, but pesticides make them suffer. Gavini and Offi are in partnership with agro-business ventures producing bananas and other fruits.
Getting started in beekeeping takes a very small investment, Gavini indicated. He put the cost of a hive at 35,000 CFA francs (53 euros/$64) and by adding the clothing and some basic equipment it comes up to 65,000 CFA (99 euros) at the most. The farmer can get this money back in the first year.
The honey prices per kilogram (2.2 pounds) range from 3,000 to 10,000 francs (15 euros) and there is income to be made from beeswax, essential oils, bee venom and propolis varnish as well.
In the economic capital, Abidjan, some street vendors sell honey adulterated with water and sugar. A saleswoman at the Katiola cooperative insists it is best to buy directly from the outlet to ensure quality.
Sebastien Gavini reminds us all that quality is the most important thing. The Ivory Coast honey varieties are incredible due to the many botanical treasures of the Ivory Coast, like coffee flowers, kapok and orange trees, cashew nuts and acacias. Each honey has its own flavor, depending on which flowers the bees have foraged. He believes the Ivory Coast could become the world’s leading honey producer because they’ve got what it takes.
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